Erin Cooke works to implement SFO’s sustainability goals

by Linda Hubbard Gulker on May 8, 2017

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Menlo Park resident Erin Cooke doesn’t just talk the talk, she walks the walk. Or more accurately, she bikes to Caltrain, hops off at Millbrae and bikes to her job at SFO as the airport’s Sustainability Director.

In that capacity she’s overseeing what she calls the airport’s “moon shot,” work to translate the Airport’s Five-Year Strategic Plan into action, mobilizing the effort to go beyond “the typical green initiative.”

“It’s a triple zero,” she explains. “Zero net energy, zero carbon emissions, zero waste to landfill — all to be achieved by 2021.”

She’ll be speaking on the subject “Flying the (Climate) Friendly Skies: Sustainability @ SFO” at an Acterra-sponsored event on Thursday, May 11, 7:30-8:30 pm, Microsoft, Mountain View Campus, 1065 La Avenida, Mountain View.

Erin’s interest in environmental activism began as an undergraduate when she double majored in natural resource science and business management. “That wasn’t as common in the 90s,” she says. “Now, of course, I interview people who have degrees in sustainability.”

Professionally, she’s always worked in climate impacted industries. She’s done a lot of work around energy and water conservation and helped launch Silicon Valley Clean Energy.

SFO has led the country in terms of the environmental actions. It’s reduced emissions by nearly 40% from the 1990 baseline, and Terminal 2 was the first airport LEED gold-certified building in the nation.

And it continues to lead in the space. To advance its mission of providing exceptional airport service to surrounding communities, SFO has adopted the airport-specific EONS definition of sustainability developed by the Airports Council International – North America.  EONS defines airport sustainability as, “a holistic approach to managing an airport so as to ensure the integrity of the economic viability, operational efficiency, natural resource conservation and social responsibility of the airport.”

All well and good, we thought, but what can those of us who pass through SFO do to further the airport’s sustainability goals?

“The passenger journey starts at your door,” answers Erin. “Take public transit, and we realize that is more challenging for people living south of the airport. If you use a transportation network company [Uber and Lyft to consumers], look to see if the car is a hybrid and/or use the shared ride option as that dramatically reduces emissions.

“Other things passengers can do is pack lighter and book flights on fuel-efficient aircraft. And when you’re passing through the airport, shop with your wallet and buy green products.”

Erin reminds us that SFO pumps billions of dollars in the local economy. “The workforce is made up of local people,” she says. “The concessionaires are local businesses. People may experience a different airport for the next few years while we are implementing our $5.7 billion Capital Plan, but it is and will continue to provide a lot of local good.”

For more about changes at the airport and its environmental actions, there’s a series of videos on YouTube.

Photo courtesy of Erin Cooke taken at the airport’s Bayfront Park which, Erin says, is a great place for plane spotting

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